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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Gov. Scott's teacher pay raise plan met with skepticism

TAMPA - The governor wants teachers to have $2,500 raises next school year. Teachers say the raises are long overdue. It sounds like a great idea, but whether it comes to fruition might be another thing. After all, the Legislature would need to include $480 million in the state budget for raises for Florida's 168,000 full-time public school teachers. Then, 67 school districts across the state would have to ensure the $2,500 ends up in each teacher's pocket.
"Governors can say things that sound fabulous at the beginning of the legislative session and they don't have to be held accountable for them," said Jean Clements, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, which represents more than half of the county's 15,000 teachers. "We don't know what else the Legislature is going to do and what mandates they will impose that they will not fund," she added. In other words, she said, teachers shouldn't hold their breath for that raise. It's easier to promise it in January than it is to deliver it at the bargaining table several months later. Gov. Rick Scott made the proposal last week to give Florida's teachers an across-the-board raise. Classroom instructors make an average of $45,000 a year, some $10,000 less than the national average. The governor made stops near Orlando and in Tampa to tout his plan, which he called an investment in education made possible by the state's better budget climate. But many others — ranging from school board members to teachers to politicians — have called it something else. "With poll numbers being low, all of a sudden you become the education governor," said state Rep. Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey. "People read through that stuff. It's a gimmick," he said. "It's like you are using them as a political pawn. Let me see if I can move my numbers by promising something that may not happen. It's wrong." School board member Cindy Stuart also is skeptical. "I'm not sure right now that you are going to find a lot of confidence in what he is saying," she said of the governor, who slashed the state education budget by $1 billion his first year. Stuart and others wonder where the money is for others who work in schools. There are cafeteria workers, clerks, custodians, bus drivers and aides who all think they are underpaid. "They are working just as hard as those teachers," Stuart said. "This does create a divide." Scott has said that he will unveil other parts of his budget later. He stressed during a visit to Tampa on Thursday that he wanted to take care of everybody financially. While teachers and others in the educational system look forward to the extra $2,500 if it does materialize, they say it's not nearly enough. They have had few raises in the past several years and also now have to contribute 3 percent of their pay into their state pension plan. "It's a start, but it certainly isn't enough," Stuart said of the raise, which would be for the next school year. "We are not in line nationwide with salaries and we need to be." Clements, who wonders about the logic of giving a first-year teacher the same raise as someone who has taught for 15 years, agrees. "It's totally inadequate," she said. "It's not even a nod toward the level of professionalism that our teachers exhibit each and every day. "It baffles me that as Floridians we have not demanded more from our state in the support it gives to our public schools," Clements added. "It should be the core value that is most important to all of us."

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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